By Yingzhi Yang and Brenda Goh
BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – ByteDance, owner of the global hit short-video app TikTok, has shut down its artificial-intelligence-based news aggregator TopBuzz, one of the company’s earliest products aimed at the global stage.
“We’re proud of the work that we accomplished with TopBuzz, but (we) have determined that other areas of the business should be our priority going forward,” ByteDance said in a statement sent to Reuters on Friday.
The closure of TopBuzz underlines how ByteDance’s moves into international markets have not been entirely smooth in spite of TikTok’s success.
Launched in 2015, TopBuzz was the overseas equivalent of Chinese news aggregator Jinri Toutiao, meaning “Today’s Headlines”, which was one of Beijing-based ByteDance’s first successes. The app recommends personalized news articles to users with different interests based on its AI-driven algorithms.
However, TopBuzz was not as popular as the later TikTok app.
TopBuzz’s downloads declined to 1.2 million in the first half of 2019 from 7 million in all of 2018 on the App Store and Google Play combined, according to researcher Sensor Tower. TikTok had 345.2 million downloads in the first half of 2019.
TopBuzz began shrinking its operations last year, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The app used to have operations in multiple languages including Spanish and Portuguese, one of the sources said. But now its website only shows English and Japanese versions.
ByteDance is currently under a U.S national security inquiry into TikTok’s handling of user data, and also facing tightened scrutiny from regulators around the world.
TopBuzz’s tepid performance has not stopped Chinese entrepreneurs from starting global news apps.
News Break, founded by Yahoo alumnus Zheng Zhaohui in 2015 and backed by Chinese investors, was ranked as the No. 1 news and magazine app on Google Play in the U.S. by usage over the past 28 days, followed by Twitter and Reddit, according to app performance tracker SimilarWeb.
(Reporting by Yingzhi Yang in Beijing and Brenda Goh in Shanghai)